Moscow Kremlin: Living like a tzar
“I have seen the King’s majesties of England and the French King’s pavilion, but none are like this.”
—Captain Richard Chancellor, 1553
Richard Chancellor was the first Englishman to visit Russia, during the reign of Ivan the IV – better known as Ivan the Terrible.
Ivan entertained his guest to lavish dinners on gold plate, and gave him presents of furs and jewelry.
Chancellor went sightseeing and saw that Moscow was a much bigger city than London, yet he described it also as “a rude and barbarous kingdom.”
The Moscow Kremlin (Russian: Московский Кремль, Moskovskiy Kreml), sometimes referred to as simply the Kremlin, is a historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River (to the south), Saint Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square (to the east) and the Alexander Garden (to the west). It is the best known of kremlins (Russian citadels) and includes four palaces, four cathedrals and the enclosing Kremlin Wall with Kremlin towers.
The complex serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation.
Following the French invasion of Russia in 1812, the French forces occupied the Kremlin from 2 September to 11 October. When Napoleon retreated from Moscow, he ordered the whole Kremlin to be blown up.
The Kremlin Arsenal, several portions of the Kremlin Wall and several wall towers were destroyed by explosions and fires damaged the Faceted Chamber and churches.
Explosions continued for three days, from 21 to 23 October. Fortunately, the rain damaged the fuses, and the damage was less severe than intended.
Restoration works were held in 1816–19, supervised by Osip Bove. During the remainder of Alexander I‘s reign, several ancient structures were renovated in a fanciful neo-Gothic style, but many others were condemned as “disused” or “dilapidated” (including all the buildings of the Trinity metochion) and simply torn down.
The Soviet government moved from Petrograd to Moscow on 12 March 1918.
Vladimir Lenin selected the Kremlin Senate as his residence.
Joseph Stalin also had his personal rooms in the Kremlin. He was eager to remove from his headquarters all the “relics of the tsarist regime“. Golden eagles on the towers were replaced by shining Kremlin stars, while the wall near Lenin’s Mausoleum was turned into the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.
The Chudov Monastery and Ascension Convent, with their magnificent 16th-century cathedrals, were dismantled to make room for the military school and Palace of Congresses.
The Little Nicholas Palace and the old Saviour Cathedral were pulled down as well.
The residence of the Soviet government was closed to tourists until 1955. It was not until the Khrushchev Thaw that the Kremlin was reopened to foreign visitors.
The Kremlin Museums were established in 1961 and the complex was among the first Soviet patrimonies inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1990.
Although the current director of the Kremlin Museums, Elena Gagarina (Yuri Gagarin‘s daughter) advocates a full-scale restoration of the destroyed cloisters, recent developments have been confined to expensive restoration of the original interiors of the Grand Kremlin Palace, which were altered during Stalin’s rule.